Your Guide to Taking Dreamy Portraits

Oct 15, 2002

Taking dreamy portraits, like any creative photography project, requires both skill and imagination. Portrait photography gives you endless opportunities to create artistic dreamscapes and enchanting worlds out of the seemingly ordinary. This blog will give you some tips to create a world that feels surreal and dreamlike.

Surreal Locations

Where you are shooting sets the tone for the image you want to create. What sort of places do you visit in your dreams? How do you see them?  Abandoned buildings, graffiti lined alleyways, landscapes, or abandoned railroad tracks can all set the tone for a great dreamy portrait.

Using Light

Lens Flares

Portraits provide an awesome opportunity to use the rays of the sun to create lens flares. With a bit of practice, this is a fun technique to master.

Using the live view screen to protect your eyes, position your lens with the sun in the frame then slowly move the camera until concentric circles appear. Adjust your position until you can clearly see the details of your subject’s face along with the presence of the flare.

To give more well defined rays, use a smaller aperture. Use a wider aperture to give you a more blown-out look.

You should use a spot meter as you would when shooting portraits near windows as your subject will be backlit. For extra lighting use a reflector, whiteboard or a touch of fill flash.

Soft Light

Seek out soft lighting. Shooting outside when it’s overcast (being careful to protect your equipment should that turn to rain) is a perfect opportunity to create dreamy portraits. The clouds block the bright sun, and they diffuse the light more evenly, creating an effect similar to a studio softbox.

For angelic-like faces, you can have your subject stand in front of a window, and for studio-like lighting you can have them stand beside the window. Experiment with using the window light to create different dreamy effects, and you can point your spot meter towards your model’s face to make sure they’re not underexposed. Or, use a reflector, whiteboard or fill flash to direct more light towards them.


Use a Shallow Depth of Field

There’s nothing like a blurry background to replicate a dreamlike state! Switch your camera to aperture priority mode and choose a wide aperture. Use the narrow focus to make sure your subjects eyes are sharp, and let everything else blur into the background to create a dreamy portrait.

Experiment with Exposure

Try shooting at low shutter speeds. You can use a long exposure to intentionally blur elements of your shot to create neat effects.

You’ll want to use your tripod, of course, and set your camera to speed priority mode. Start with 1/5th of a second or slower and experiment to find the best blur. You can have your subject move just one body part, or play with lights to create trippy trails.

A dimly lit location will provide the best results in order to avoid over-exposure.

Join Us for a Photography Adventure  

Leave us your contact information on our Workshops & Photo Tours page, and we’ll send you more info!